Mr. H.G. Wells says, “Nothing endures, nothing is precise and certain… Being indeed! There is no being, but a universal becoming of individualities… there is no abiding thing in what we know…”
Now, when Mr. Wells says things like this, I speak with all respect when I say that he does not observe an evident mental distinction. It cannot be true that there is nothing abiding in what we know. For if that were so we should not know it at all and should not call it knowledge. Our mental state may be very different from that of somebody else some thousand of years back; but it cannot be entirely different, or else we should not be conscious of a difference.
Mr. Wells must surely see that the fact of two things being different implies that they are similar. The hare and the tortoise may differ in their quality of swiftness, but they must agree in the quality of motion. The swiftest hare cannot be swifter than an isosceles triangle or the idea of pinkness. When we say the hare moves faster, we say that the tortoise moves. And when we say of a thing that it moves, we say that there are things that do not move. And even in the act of saying that things change, we say that there is something unchangeable…
Nietzsche summed up all that is interesting in the Superman idea when he said, “Man is a thing that has to be surpassed.” But the very word ‘surpass’ implies the existence of thing common to us and the thing surpassing us… mere force or size even is a standard; but that alone will never make men think a man their superior. Giants, as in the wise old fairy tales, are vermin. Supermen, if not good men, are vermin…
The old and correct story of Jack the Giant Killer is simply the whole story of man; if it were understood we should need no Bibles or histories. But the modern world does not understand it at all. The modern world, like Mr. Wells, is on the side of the giants; the safest place, and therefore the meanest and most prosaic. The modern world, when it praises its little Caesars, talks of being strong and brave... the strong cannot be brave. Only the weak can be brave; any yet again, in practice, only those who can be brave can be trusted, in time of doubt to be strong.
Sympathy with the small and the defeated as such… is not a useless sentimentalism, as Mr. Wells and his friends fancy. It is the first law of practical courage. To be in the weakest camp is to be in the strongest school.
GK Chesterton, Heretics
Reflection – Another hard chapter to excerpt! I should mention that GKC spends the first half of the chapter lauding H.G. Wells to the skies for his imaginative breadth and capacious active intellect.
Wells had written a story, “The Food of the Gods”, which GKC called the story of Jack and the Beanstalk told from the perspective of the giant. It is this praise of the strong and the big against the weak and the powerless that is the issue here. The other word for it is fascism, that much-abused word that now means little more than ‘I don’t like you much!’
Pity, since it’s really one of the most important words of our time, something I have written about more than once on this blog, something I consider to be one of the greatest perils facing us in North America.
It is the worship of power and because it is worshipped, the ruthless seeking, getting, consolidating, centralizing, and utilizing of power to exercise and more and more total control over the lives of individuals.
It seems to me that this manifests itself in many ways: exponentially increased government spying on citizens, an alarming growth in police brutality, the hyper-regulated state, the use of accusations of ‘hate speech,’ pseudo-psychopathology, and black lists to intimidate and silence dissidents (as was done in the Soviet Union), all aided by a compliant, supine media-entertainment complex.
Well, it’s March for Life day in Washington DC, the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. Perhaps of all the manifestations of the worship of power and the contempt for the weak and the powerless, the legalization of abortion is the most tragic and devastating. After all, it is only this specific social institution that actually directly kills millions of powerless human beings, most tragically by skewing our social structures so horrifically awry that these little ones are killed by their own mothers, who themselves are most often in positions of deep powerlessness and vulnerability.
The weak are pitted against the weaker in a bizarre real world version of the Hunger Games, and we call it women’s rights, and those who suggest it may not be the best system ever devised are engaged in a ‘war on women.’ Utterly bizarre, twisted, and truly evil.
Well, that’s probably quite enough of a rant for the day. But we do need to take hold of this central point, that power is not good in itself, but only is good when it serves what is good. And goodness is a fixed star, an unchanging standard. And the test of goodness, I would say, in a society or in a person, is how we treat the disadvantaged, the poor, the weak, the disenfranchised, the powerless.
By that standard, we are not very good in our society, and we are getting somewhat worse. But we can change, if we want to. Happy March for Life day, my American pro-life friends (sorry it’s such a cold one!). May Jack slay the Giant (figuratively speaking) and may the poor and the little and the weak be victorious, soon.